Two people are dead and four others are confirmed sick with a strain of Listeria monocytogenes found in cheese made from unpasteurized raw milk. Vulto Creamery is recalling the cheese from retailers and distributors nationwide.
It’s been more than five months since the first outbreak victim became sick on Sept. 1, 2016, but federal officials said Jos Vulto, owner of the Walton, NY, cheese operation initiated the recall as soon as he heard about the “cannot rule out” test results on his cheese. He began pulling cheese back from his customers March 3 and posted the public recall Tuesday.
Since then, the Food and Drug Administration has confirmed Listeria monocytogenes in Vulto’s finished product, according to an outbreak notice posted by the agency this morning. The FDA and other state and federal agencies have been investigating the outbreak since Jan. 31. The most recent illness began on Jan. 22.
Confirmed victims are from Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Florida. All six required hospitalization. Two died. Victims’ ages range from less than one year to 89, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All six outbreak victims ate soft cheeses before becoming sick. The outbreak strain of Listeria has been confirmed in open cheese from a victim’s home and in finished cheese at the Vulto operation.
Public health officials are concerned that contaminated cheese may be in consumers’ homes and are urging people to check for the recalled cheese. Anyone who has eaten the recalled cheese and developed symptoms of Listeria infection should seek medical attention.
Consumers who have eaten the recalled cheese are also urged to monitor themselves for the coming weeks for signs of Listeria infection. It can take up to 70 days after exposure for symptoms to develop. Symptoms can include high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Vulto Creamery stopped production and launched the nationwide recall Tuesday for four varieties of its raw milk cheeses. Whole Foods Market reinforced the recall with its own on Wednesday, recalling Vulto cheese from its stores and urging consumers not to eat any they may have in their homes.
All lots of Vulto Creamery’s Ouleout, Miranda, Heinennellie and Willowemoc soft wash-rind raw milk cheeses are being recalled, according to the recall notice on the Food and Drug Administration’s website.
In an unusual move, the company is requesting that the cheese be returned, rather than destroyed. Some public health officials are concerned that the Listeria bacteria could cross contaminate other foods and storage areas if the recalled Vulto cheeses are not disposed of immediately.
Jos Vulto, owner of the creamery, did not immediately respond to a request for comment today. In his recall notice he offered consumers refunds and asked them to return unused Vulto cheese to retailers.
“Consumers that have any of these soft raw milk cheeses from Vulto Creamery should return the cheese to the (point of) purchase location for a refund,” according to the recall notice.
“Food and cheese wholesalers and retailers with any of the Vulto Creamery soft, wash-rind raw milk cheeses on hand should immediately remove these products from common storage coolers and quarantine these cheeses in a secured area of a cooler. Any wholesaler or distributor that has any of the four cheeses should contact Vulto Creamery to receive instructions on what to do with the cheese. No recalled cheese should be destroyed until Vulto Creamery has been notified and agrees.”
Vulto Creamery distributed the raw milk cheeses — made from unpasteurized milk — nationwide. Most were sold at retail locations in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States, California, Chicago, Portland and Washington D.C., according to the recall.
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